Tour Confidential: Is the anchoring ban in need of a facelift?

July 3, 2017

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee took to social media to vent about his displeasure with golf’s anchoring ban, saying, among other things: “With regard to the anchoring ban on the PGA Tour Champions, it’s appalling, I have never seen such gross disregard for the spirit of the game.” Even John Daly chimed in. The complaint seemed to be alluding to Bernhard Langer, though Chamblee didn’t mention him by name. Chamblee’s issue appears to be the “application” of the rule and the fact that players can find work-arounds. Does the anchoring ban rule need a facelift?       

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): In a word, yes. I’ve spoken with more than a couple friends, players and caddies alike, who now work on the Champions Tour, and they are not happy. While no one has stepped up to name anyone, they tell me that in the locker rooms, many players are vocal and angry, but still trying to work the problem inside the tour with rules officials, rather than making things very public. I’ve been told that the mantra on the PGA Tour amongst rules officials is, “We need to see daylight,” so no one is pushing it out here.

Jeff Ritter, Digital Development Editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): Not sure if the rule needs a makeover or just consistent enforcement. It seemed clear when it was drawn up, but as time has passed, lines have blurred. Whether you think Langer is anchoring or not, it’s time for the governing bodies to decide how to police this thing.

Michael Bamberger, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated: It seemed like a neat solution at the time, to alter the method and not the putter itself, but it is almost impossible to police. Which means it’s not working. The USGA’s real goal was to prevent hot-shot kids coming up in the game going to anchoring early, as so many now go to cross-handed early. The truth is, the USGA never really spoke with candor about the organization’s objection: it doesn’t look golfy. Well, the enforcement looks less golfy. Yes, it needs a facelift. The facelift may be elimination of the change or an elimination of long-shafted putters. In other words, a pretty radical facelift. It was a shame so much energy was wasted on it in the first place. The game has other things to worry about. 

Joe Passov, Senior Editor, GOLF (@joepassov): I’ll start the festivities by agreeing with my colleagues. It needs either a radical change in form or a radical change in enforcement if it’s going to work as the USGA had hoped. The fact that there’s even a question about whether Langer is actually violating the rule, let alone the spirit, is reason enough to revisit. And as long as we’re revisiting, I get to re-voice my position that there should never have been a ban to begin with. My wife disagrees—she calls the broomstick stuff “cheating,” whereas I’m of the view that if anchoring were that superior of a technique, then nearly everyone would have adopted it. But if my view is indeed dead, then fix the rule and its enforcement so that there’s no doubt among fans and fellow players.


2. Maybe it’s time to start getting used to low scores at U.S. Opens. Weeks after Brooks Koepka tied the U.S. Open record at 16 under at Erin Hills (and after Justin Thomas shot 63 in the third round), Kenny Perry won the U.S. Senior Open at 16 under on Sunday (Gene Sauers won at three under last year). Kirk Triplett and Brandt Jobe also matched the tournament record with 62s during the week. Do birdie barrages at our national championships bother you?

Wood: They do. That’s only my opinion, and it takes nothing away from those phenomenal scores being put up by Thomas, Triplett, Jobe, Koepka, and others. But growing up watching U.S. Opens with rock hard greens, small fairways, and gnarly rough makes it an adjustment for a lot of us to watch and equate what our eyes see with what a U.S. Open used to be. I look at it like this: The old formula for a U.S. Open setup had multiple defenses. You had to drive it straight, and if you didn’t drive it straight, the rough was unplayable from a green-in-regulation standpoint. You usually had to hack it out back into the fairway with a wedge of some sort, then try and get it up and down from there. OK, so you’ve hit the fairway, now you’re hitting an iron into what is an unusually firm green, meaning spin, control, and landing point have to be spot on. The approach had to be struck very, very well. “Good” wasn’t going to cut it. If you miss that shot, guess what? More thick, unpredictable rough around the greens. More hack-out rough that made the ball uncontrollable, and many times, had you hoping for a 10-footer for par. And at the end of every hole was a green with speeds that would not permit a putt that wasn’t struck with perfect pace. Multiple defenses.  Add to all this a windy day, and pars, patience, and guts would be how you succeeded. I really liked Erin Hills as a golf course. It was fun and interesting and beautiful, but it had one form of defense from my point of view: strong wind and firm greens. When they didn’t get that, there was literally no way to control the scores relative to par unless you put the holes on side slopes. 
Ritter: I’m with Mr. Wood here. For one week a year, I like watching the pros complain, struggle, cringe and generally suffer. I’m not ready to declare Erin Hills a harbinger of an new era in USGA setups. I think the blue coats were charmed early in the course’s design process and decided to take a shot with it, but once there, they weren’t exactly sure how to set it up. They erred on side of too soft, and the weather didn’t help. Next year, they return to Shinnecock, a known quantity, and if the winning score is 16-under again, I’m sounding the alarm.
Bamberger: JWood catches it on the screws here. Each major must have an identity to be relevant and special and capture the imagination of the game’s fans and become a serious object of desire for the players. A U.S. Open, for men, for women, for seniors, must be a grindfest. Lest it be just another event. If scores are that low, something’s wrong. On the last two, something was wrong. I think we’ll see low scores at the U.S. Women’s Open at Bedminster, another big playfield. 

Passov: Confession: I’ve slept through one too many major championships where the set-up was one-dimensional. Two par 5s, four par 3s and a bunch of hard par 4s, all choked by dense rough, where a great Tillinghast, Ross or Flynn layout witnessed all strategy sucked out of it in favor of bow-and-arrow golf—not for me. Yet, I do feel a U.S. Open course should be hard—but hard/great, not hard/boring. Oakmont, Pebble and a properly set-up Shinnecock are three awesome hard/great tests. And it’s the test that separates—or should separate—the U.S. Open from regular tour events. I believe the national champion should be tested mentally as well as physically, that’s where the “grind” aspect works for me. Just toss in sufficient variety to complement that test. 

3. Speaking of low scores, our Michael Bamberger recently made the pitch for a restricted-ball flight for the majors that would max out at 300 yards. The dialed-back ball would protect the integrity of the game’s biggest tournaments and prevent classic courses from going extinct. You on board with this idea?
Ritter: It’s an inspired idea, especially if it preserves the par-5 13th at Augusta, but I’m skeptical whether the major ball manufacturers would ever get on board.

Wood: I make it a point to never disagree with Mr. Bamberger when he has a great point. I would certainly like the idea explored, and at some point I think it will be. As I said in a past Tour Confidential, length is no longer a relevant defense for a golf course.  

Bamberger: I recently started putting my e-mail address at the end of my stories. The piece got a lot of mail (for me). Not one person said it was a bad idea. One reader wrote, “What would be wrong with it?” Really, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason why it would not be good for those events to have their own restricted-flight ball.

Passov: Michael, you been talking with Jack Nicklaus again? Funny how the guy (Nicklaus) who hit it longer/straighter/higher than anybody, the guy who forced Augusta into altering its Masters course, has long been the voice of reason on rolling back the ball. Since I’m a regular flag-waver for the preservation of the integrity of classic, Golden Age courses, I would fully embrace the restricted-ball rule. ​

4. Two-time NBA MVP and multi-millionaire Steph Curry received a sponsor’s exemption into the tour’s Ellie Mae Classic in August. But the question of whether Curry, a 2.2 handicap, deserved a spot over grinding pros ignited a debate on social media. Do you have a problem with Curry playing in the event?
Wood: Not really. The Ellie Mae Classic is trying to sell tickets and get eyes onto their event. This will sell tickets and get eyes onto their event. I hate to sound cruel and it is not my intention, but since I started caddying out on Tour 21 years ago, there is a mantra that goes around no matter what problem a player has with regard to fairness: Play better. It fixes everything.
Ritter: I understand the debate, but I have no problem with it. The tournament sponsor shells out big money, and it’s their right to use a spot to help promote its own event, which Curry will certainly do.
Bamberger: Steph Curry is taking the spot of a player who needs the spot and has earned the spot in ways Steph Curry has not, and I don’t care. The game will be better for Curry’s one-week dip into it. If he breaks 80 both days I’ll be most amazed by the man. Or even more amazed.

Passov: This is hardly the first time this issue has bubbled up. In the 1940s and 1950s, the PGA Tour permitted heavyweight champ Joe Louis to play in tournaments, and permitted athlete of the century Babe Didrikson Zaharias to tee it up with the men. Gate proceeds, anyone? Sure. Most recently, however, there was a Bay Area imbroglio with GOAT wide receiver Jerry Rice being gifted a spot in a event, where he crashed, and then burned. As cruel as it might be to the rank-and-file, I’m siding with JW on this one: Play better. It fixes everything.​

5. Tommy Fleetwood won the French Open Sunday to claim his second European tour victory of the season. The 26-year-old was also fourth at the U.S. Open last month. Fleetwood, who is projected to move to No. 15 in the world, is also a Southport, England, native, growing up minutes away from this month’s British Open venue, Royal Birkdale. Just weeks away, is there a better dark horse pick for the Open than Fleetwood? If so, name him!
Wood: (Scratches head). Uh, no?
Ritter: Fleetwood is definitely on rise. I’m rarely right about these things, but a few other names I kind of like: Leishman, Snedeker, Pieters, Reed.
Bamberger: If Fleetwood’s a dark horse, Brian Harman is, too. I’ll see your Fleetwood and raise you a Harman.

Passov: Ah, Tommy Fleetwood…the Danny Willett of 2017! I still like Paul Casey, who keeps putting himself in contention, despite the odd ‘8’ or two wrecking his scorecards. And keep an eye on Sweden’s Alex Noren, who’s made maybe the quietest move ever into the World’s Top 8.​
6. Happy 4th of July! Augusta, Pine Valley and Cypress Point are often cited among the best courses in America, but which U.S. course offers the most distinctly *American* golf experience? 
Wood: Well, growing up playing in T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes, I’d say the most distinctly *American* golf experience means a more inclusive experience, so for me it would be to go to (insert local municipal golf course in your city here) Haggin Oaks, pay $12.50 for a sundown rate, get in as many holes as possible until you can’t see anymore, then play two more holes that you can’t see. Finish up, feel your way back to the parking lot, then pull your cars up to the putting green, shine the lights on it and have a putting contest for another hour, every putt to “win the Masters” like me and my friends used to do after school.  
Bamberger: I agree with John: the quintessential American golf experience should be a public one. It should be difficult, it should have a rugged beauty, it should be affordable. I’m typing this from Long Island and drove by it the other day, so it’s on my mind: Bethpage Black.

Passov: I don’t disagree often with Mr. Bamberger, but when I do, it’s always done respectfully. Unlike Scotland, where you’ll find the game’s roots, “distinctly American” means private, not public. While I’m nearly moved to change my mind with Michael’s choice of the “People’s Country Club,” Bethpage Black, I’ll go with that track that has the flag jabbed into a map of the United States, and that would be Augusta National Golf Club. Its distinctly American course architecture and the warm and fuzzy glow it’s bathed in come April does it for me.​
Ritter: Hemlock Golf Club winds through the pines and along the dunes in Ludington, Mich. It has dramatic views, fun risk/reward holes and grilled brats at the turn. It’s also where the Ritter family traditionally pegs it on July 5th and I’m looking forward to it.